WEB EXTRA: Smithsonian plans to open black history museum on Mall

In 1963, blacks made history by marching on Washington to promote civil rights. By 2016, the Smithsonian Institution will make black history on the mall again, with the creation of a new museum.

The Smithsonian’s Board of Regents announced in late January that 14th Street and Constitution Avenue would be the site of the new African American History and Culture Museum it hopes to build by 2016.

“We are honored to have a site on the National Mall, a site that will allow this museum to become a place that encourages millions of Americans to remember . and to revel in the richness of African-American history and culture,” said Lonnie Bunch, the director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in a statement.

The Museum was officially created Dec. 19, 2003, when President Bush signed into law legislation establishing the museum as part of the Smithsonian Institution. The museum marks the first national museum devoted solely to black culture, history and art.

Congress had been mulling the idea of such a museum since the 1980s, and there had been clamor for the building of a monument commemorating black veterans and other notable blacks as early as 1916.

GW students said they are excited about the new Smithsonian museum and the opportunities it brings. Charles Basden, the public relations director of the Black Student Union, said he is enthusiastic about the benefits of such a museum near campus.

“D.C. is rich in African American history and culture . a museum dedicated to the study of this culture would not only add diversity to the city but will also enlighten others to the contributions African Americans have made to the city,” Basden said.

The BSU hopes that the museum will bring more diversity to GW and will help persuade the University administration to expand its African American Studies program. The Joint Committee of Faculty and Students is considering whether to recommend the creation of an Africana Studies major.

The Smithsonian Board of Regents was required by the legislation to select one of four possible locations; the board made its decision based on each location’s size, site history, public accessibility, surrounding structures and environmental factors.

“This was a careful and complex process that has benefited from the consultations and guidance of numerous entities and individuals. We are dedicated and committed to creating a museum that is worthy of the Smithsonian Institution, and one that honors and does justice to the history and the memories of the African American community,” Bunch, the museum’s director, said.

Not everyone is satisfied with the decision. Organizations such as the National Coalition to Save Our Mall have publicly denounced the board’s decision. Judy Scott Feldman, president of the group, supports the establishment of a black history museum but is opposed to the site at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue.

“A museum on that site will not enhance the Mall but rather overcrowd it. It’s supposed to be a ‘people’s park’ . before we know the whole mall will be paved over,” Feldman said.

Fundraising is the next part of museum development: the estimated price tag on the project is estimated to be between $300 million and $400 million.

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